Keep it in the family

Three generations of the Kelly family have been found guilty of anti-fracking protests in Lancashire - but the judge has praised them for their integrity and strong moral compass

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Three generations of the same family have told how they will not give up their fight against fracking after they were found guilty of obstructing the highway following a protest at Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road in Blackpool.

Grandmother Gillian Kelly appeared in court alongside her son Sebastian Kelly and grand-daughter Megan Kelly after they took part in a lock-on protest during last year’s summer of resistance against plans to start drilling for shale gas.

Preston Magistrates Court heard how the family were among seven protesters who locked their arms into reinforced box-mounted tubes under the banner of Families Against Fracking in a bid to block access to the site. On 24 January the protesters were found guilty following a trial at Preston Magistrates Court and were each handed a six-month conditional discharge.

In an interview with Big Issue North, the Kelly family spoke of their pride in standing up against the government and Cuadrilla in a bid to raise awareness of the dangers of fracking to water, land, health and the climate.

Gillian Kelly, a semi-retired psychotherapist and former teacher, described how proud she felt to make a stand alongside her son and grand-daughter at the protest last July.

She said: “I am proud. I am really proud. It was a watershed moment. It has changed my whole life. It was very scary. In the week before [the protest] I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart nearly coming out of my chest imagining. My biggest fear was that we wouldn’t succeed, not that anything bad would happen to me. My biggest fear was that we wouldn’t make it because I knew the odds were terribly against us.”

Megan Kelly in front of Cuadrilla’s gates in July. Main photo: The Kelly family following the verdict at Preston Magistrates Court

The trial followed more than 300 arrests made at the Cuadrilla site last year in a mass mobilisation of the local community and civil society against the project, which was rejected for planning permission by the local county council before being overturned by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid in 2015.

Gillian told how she had never been involved in activism until she became increasingly aware of the government’s reluctance to listen to local residents.

She said: “I see fracking at this moment in time as completely lunatic really. We should be moving to renewables. The planet is in a state of crisis and the government should be supporting the move to renewables. They have tried to make the case for this being a transition fuel. It is not a transition fuel, it is a fossil fuel.

“If they support this industry it will go on for another several decades. It is beyond imagining that they would think this is a reasonable thing to do. They are just ignoring scientific evidence and they are supporting fossil fuel companies. I don’t see anything that is of benefit to the people that they are governing. I think they are really acting wrongfully. And it is incredible to me that anybody can blatantly pursue a course like this when it is so obviously endangering the people that they are governing over and adding to greenhouse gases, which are really seriously threatening us all.”

Gillian’s journey into activism started when she supported campaigner Tina Louise Rothery, who was ordered to pay £55,000 in legal fees to Cuadrilla after she sought to stop an injunction that would prevent protesters from gathering on a stretch of land being considered for shale gas exploration.

She said: “The first thing I ever did apart from sign petitions was go to the court in Blackpool to support Tina Louise Rothery. That got me a little engaged, then I thought I’d go to the site. Then I went again and again. I made a placard and stood by the side of the road with it and I slow-walked a few lorries because at that time you could.

“When I first saw people locking on, I just thought: ‘Oh gosh, who would do that?’ I didn’t even sort of dare to even talk to those people who were locked on because they felt so different from me. Then one day I talked to a woman who was locked on a number of times. She is a great woman, and she was sitting down the road at Maple Farm. I said, are you keeping a lookout for trucks? And she said no, it’s bail conditions, I’m not allowed to go near. We talked a bit and I said I’ve been thinking more about getting arrested, and I realised that at my age it doesn’t matter at all if I get arrested or if I get a criminal record.”

After the group decided to take part in the lock-on they devised a careful plan to arrive at the site and remove the bright green coloured boxes from a trailer and use them to lock on to each other within 12 seconds.

It’s not every day you get led off in handcuffs in front of your grandma and she is proud of you

Philosophy student Megan Kelly described how they had to change their plan on arrival after realising there was increased police presence at the site and one of the lanes was closed.

She said: “I just thought we’re not going to manage this at all – all the build up has been for nothing – so when we actually did it I was just so happy for the whole day. I had a perfectly nice time when I got arrested. Obviously it was very surreal. It’s not every day you get led off in handcuffs in front of your grandma and she is proud of you.”

Speaking of her family’s shared passion for the fight against fracking, Megan said: “It’s a blessing really. You can have solidarity with your family. There are a lot of people that this would be incredible for, but they potentially get put down as being a bit of an environmental nut. It was just so brilliant. I got quite emotional watching everybody. We all have a shared purpose.

“There will be more protests this summer – I would hope so – unless the government comes to its senses. The government doesn’t seem to care at all.”

The group’s solicitor Nicky Hall told the court her clients were “highly principled individuals” who “put their heads above the parapet” in their decision to stand against the fracking industry.

In delivering the guilty verdict, District Judge Goodwin noted the group’s “deep integrity” and “strong moral compass” in taking their action against a fracking project overwhelmingly rejected by the local community.

After the verdict Sebastian Kelly said: “Public opinion is increasingly set against fracking and more and more people are becoming inspired to join the campaign against it. Our action taught me that we really can change things, and I believe that we really can stop fracking in its tracks.”

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